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Invited by the Faculty of Theology at the University of Geneva, Joseph Famérée, Theologian, priest of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Saint-Quentin in Belgium was both highly honoured and exceptionally proud to be at our alma mater to give a lecture series analysing the relationships between the Catholic Church and the contemporary world.

In his lecture entitled "Monarchy or Democracy in the Catholic Church?”, Professor Famérée began with a statement which could be summarised thus: the organisation and structure of the Western, Latin and Roman Catholic Church has, throughout its history, been influenced by the social and political realities of each era. It is simple enough to trace an historic path; we need just think of feudalism or the formation of modern monarchical states. Currently, the Catholic Church lives within democratic societies in many countries of the world, particularly in Europe. Despite its very specific characteristics, is the Church willing to have its internal processes challenged by the aspirations of our contemporaries in relation to democracy and human rights? Moreover, could there be, in a number of respects, collusion with an authentic Christian way of "ordering the fraternity", to cite a work by French historian Alexandre Faivre? Is it not perhaps, above all, a crucial challenge for the credibility of the Gospel in today's world, and especially in Europe?

Going back to the latest general council of the Catholic Church (Vatican II, 1962-1965), we can observe how it brought a number of deeply traditional theological and ecclesiastical realities to the fore, which had, however, been hidden for several centuries of the Catholic heritage, while they were exploited by the Reformation, such as the radical equality of all people baptised, their baptismal and prophetic priesthood, their sense of faith, a sort of a collective spiritual instinct allowing them to perceive what is in line with faith and what is not, their charisma and therefore, the mission, in word and deed, that they are to accomplish, both within the Church and the world, the understanding of the ordained ministry as a service to Christian people and not as an authoritarian domination over them, the partial reintegration of the bishop within his local diocesan church, the partial reintegration of the pope within the episcopal college. From this theological perspective, not only does the faithful once again become a speaking and acting player, both within their local Church as well as the universal Church, but every local Church becomes a player itself, with a particular autonomy and specificity, together with the other Church players, Rome being just one, charged, from the Catholic perspective, with the mission to serve the unity and communion of the local Churches. Theologically, if not always in practice, this re-balancing between the community of the faithful and the bishop’s or the priest’s pastoral authority implies, according to Professor Famérée, a different understanding of power and of its exercise within the Church, which leads everyone to participate and collaborate more towards the shared ecclesial mission. In addition to this rearrangement of the internal ecclesial space, the Second Va- tican Council also took a newly decisive and highly innovative stand, from a Catholic point of view at least, when compared to the previous century. In the Pastoral Constitution entitled Gaudium et spes, the council opted for positive dialogue with the contemporary world, recognising that the Church does not only contribute to the world, but that it also receives a great deal from the world.

The Church no longer claims, at least according to the Council, to have the monopoly over doctrinal and moral truth: it now accepts that it is serving the world rather than dominating it authoritatively.

A world which ceases to be demonised, and which is now viewed with realistic opti- mism. Accordingly, the Church demands that freedom for all religions be recognised by the States: the Declaration on religious freedom (Dignitatis humanae). Thus, it renounces any privileged, or even exclusive, position within society. However, the culture surrounding the council’s texts is more important than the text itself. For more than fifty years, Catholics, like their contemporaries, have increasingly identified with the thirst for democracy, joint management, or even self-management, at all levels of social life, including in the Church. This is one of the great challenges facing the Catholic Church at the start of the 21st century. Will it be able to make more room, within, for democratic procedures, for more effective forms of participation, especially in Europe, where its future is at stake? Moreover, will it be able to comply with certain basic human rights, such as fair defence, as well as with the public nature of procedural measures taken against specific bishops and theologians?

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Firstly, Professor Famérée will present a short overview of the Catholic Church’s current situation, which may or may not be going in the direction of greater participation for all. He will then go on to specify how, in his opinion, the Catholic Church’s internal organisation should evolve, at least, within our cultural context of the West.

How the Catholic Church works

In his analysis, Professor Famérée identifies three levels of ecclesial life: local or diocesan, inter-diocesan or regional, then universal. In his lecture, he only referred to a few ecclesial institutions that appeared after Vatican II and are specified and codified by the Code of Canon Law. Firstly, the local level. The structure of diocesan life has evolved considerably since the Council. Not only did the Council renew Catholic ecclesiology by emphasising the pre-eminence of the Christian community in relation to the specific responsibilities within it, but it also expressed the intention of establishing advisory bodies for the whole of the Christian people. Thus, in each diocese, both a pastoral council and a presbyteral council were created.

According to canon law, the pastoral council must truly represent the whole of the diocese and the diversity of its laypeople, and especially, monks, nuns and ordained ministers.

Under the authority of the bishop, its task is to analyse what, within the diocese, affects pastoral activity, to review this and to reach practical conclusions. Councils play a purely advisory role and rely on the bishop for their creation, their way of designating members, their convocation, their chair and the public nature of their debates. Councils will therefore only be listened to and followed according to the bishop’s will. The arbitrary power of the prince, in some ways. Nevertheless, if the bishop, out of personal belief, should engage in the logic of co-responsibility with his diocesans, councils can become an extraordinary sounding board for the life and aspirations of the Christian people in the local Church. The establishment of presbyteral councils is, on the other hand, compulsory. These councils are the assemblies of priests representing the presbyterium, i.e. all the priests in the diocese. In a way, they are the bishop's senate. Their duty is to help the bishop run the diocese, with the aim of promoting, as effectively as possible, the pastoral well-being of the number of people of God entrusted to the bishop. Around half of the members are freely elected by the priests themselves, in a way which, as far as possible, reflects the diversity of the presbyteral ministries and the different regions of the diocese. Though the council only has an advisory role, the bishop must listen to it for matters of greater importance. The bishop alone is responsible for communicating what has been decided by the presbyteral council. Despite the presbyterium being truly consulted in its diversity, the structure in this case is also monarchical. Indeed, the bishop remains entirely free from council advice.

Depending on the bishop’s conception of power, he will involve his priests to a greater or lesser extent in the decisions directing the diocese’s pastoral approach.

Hence the need to effectively consider the wishes expressed by a diocese in relation to the appointment of its new bishop, if we want to avoid a real schism between the latter and a large part of his Church, both laity and priests. This can happen. Unfortunately, in ecclesial law today, there are no provisions to ensure that the expectations of the diocese are taken seriously. A consultation may indeed be organised in the diocese, however, nothing obliges the Roman Congregation for Bishops, responsible for the final selection, to hold back the three names that emerge from the diocesan consultation. Neither does it have any obligation to consider the opinion of the bishops of the ecclesiastical province concerned. In addition to the two aforementioned councils, more informal diocesan assemblies, or diocesan synods, in proper and due form, bringing together, in particular, the members of the presbyteral council and laypeople elected by the pastoral council, have been organised in many dioceses, especially in France, over the past forty years. These synods encourage Christian people, in a broader and more solemn way compared to the councils, to freely debate any issues presented and to make proposals to and even address contestations with the bishop. However, by law, the latter is the sole legislator and the other members of the synod have only an advisory capacity. This synodal and collegial approach can also be established at the parish level, despite the current limits set by the Code of Canon Law. If the diocesan bishop sees fit, a pastoral council chaired by the parish priest can be created in each parish. The faithful assist to promote pastoral activity. The parish council has only an advisory role that is in no way binding for the parish priest, though, in reality, some parish councils go much further and practice collective decision-making. However, in principle, a monarchical or hierarchical structure is present both at the parish level and the diocesan level.

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At the inter-diocesan or regional level, the face of the Church has similarly changed a great deal since Vatican II. The latter had solemnly taught of the existence of the College of Bishops, successor to the college of the apostles. By being ordained bishop, one becomes part of a body, a permanent group led by the bishop of Rome.

One cannot be a bishop alone and one cannot exercise the episcopate whilst being cut off from the other bishops.

In a strict sense, this episcopal collegiality is only exercised when all the bishops take part in the same action. The clearest and most solemn example is that of the General Council of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, collegiality in the broad sense, or episcopal dialogue, is not only practised at the universal level. It is also exercised at the national, regional and continental levels. As part of this collaborative dynamic and collegial sentiment, episcopal conferences have been introduced across all countries, but also at a level broader than that of a region or continent. In certain fields (liturgical, catechetical, organisational), their decisions, secured by two-thirds of the votes, are binding for all the bishops attending these conferences. Even though the areas where they have the power to legislate are not particularly important and the decisions must first be approved by Rome, except now for liturgical traditions, this possibility, nevertheless, represents double progress. First, bishops are obliged to consult. This horizontal dialogue then promotes a degree of autonomy among the local Churches with respect to Rome, enabling an exit from the vertical structure of the dependence of each bishop on Rome. However, as of today, this autonomy remains very limited. A little over twenty years ago, a papal document, the 21 May 1998 apostolic letter Apostolos suos, by John Paul II, froze and sanctioned the situation, although a widely shared theological school of thought had pleaded, over previous years, for the expansion of the doctrinal and legislative competences of these conferences. In this case, Rome explicitly feared that the episcopal conference’s teaching on the new issues defining our era would not be in line with the content of the universal magisterium, i.e., generally speaking, with the teachings of the pope. However, would it be possible, with such fears, to restore in the Church the face of communion and more efficient communication? 

At the universal level, there have been some changes over the past 55 years.

The first significant fact, in fairly critical circums- tances for the Roman Curia, was when Paul VI, during the Second Vatican Council, announced the reform and internationalisation of the Curia. The second significant fact was that, to meet the conciliar fathers’ request for more synodality and collegiality in the Catholic Church, Paul VI, by the end of the council, had created a synod of bishops - with an advisory role - mainly composed of elected representatives of the episcopal conferences convened according to the needs of the Church and of the Pope to advise the latter and the Roman Curia, as well as participate in the government of the universal Church. This was the first disappointment, according to Professor Famérée, as it is not enough to internationalise the Roman Curia staff for it to be truly renewed in its bureaucratic mentality, in the extent of its power and functioning. The second disappointment related to the universal Church being governed in an increasingly collegial fashion: the Roman synod of bishops instituted by Paul VI in 1965 did not meet the expectations of several conciliar fathers as it was designed to play a purely advisory role and only meet every three years. Although the ordinary or special Roman synods may have had some benefit to collegial sentiment, they appeared to be becoming just simple study or informative symposia on a variety of topics urgent to a greater or smaller degree. That is, dialogues with no direct impact on the universal management of the Church, which remained the prerogative of the Pope and of the Roman Curia. In relation to this, Pope Francis has introduced greater consultation from all the people of God. There have been some developments, for example, the publication of the Synod votes on family. Another disappointment is that, for almost twenty-five years, the Holy See acts, which are considered by many to be authoritarian, have multiplied: Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, claiming to definitively close the matter of the access of women to the presbyteral ministry, a document even deemed infallible by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, imposing an oath of fidelity to the Roman magisterium on every person with a duty of authority or teaching in the Church with compulsory adherence to a new category of so-called ultimate truths, that is, the motu proprio Ad tuandam fidem, without recalling disputed episcopal appointments or, more recently, the motu proprio Summorum pontificum, authorising the 1962 Roman missal as an extraordinary form of the Catholic liturgy and, at the same time, limiting the role of the bishop as moderator of the liturgy in his diocese.

Indeed, for the episcopal conferences, Pope Francis has fortunately restored the role of bishops as moderators of the liturgy in their Churches.

There has thus been a clear reassertion of the jurisdictional power of Rome, the Pope and the Curia, throughout the Church, for a number of years, as well as a claim for new areas of exercise of the infallibility of the Church. This unilateral extension of Roman power is rather worrying and contrary to a Church which claims to represent fraternal communion.

Synodality should be applied at all levels. As long as it is not truly practised at the universal level in the Catholic Church, the synodality of the other ecclesial levels will be seriously impaired. In the Catholic Church, the principle of collegiality

or community is described as, or rather, juxtaposed to, a primatial or monarchical principle which, according to Canon Law, is predominant and the sole decision-maker. Insufficiently faithful to the requirements of the Gospel, the way the Church works is also at odds with the cultural and democratic requirements of our time. As they stand, these processes can only be counterproductive for the proclamation of the Gospel in modern culture. So, what other ecclesial processes could we wish and perhaps hope for?

Desirable Evolution

Rather than put forward new institutional models, which can always be reviewed and have never been fully satisfactory here on earth and in our history, Professor Famérée instead suggested basing the changes that are desirable in the Church on culture and theology. Firstly, from a cultural point of view, limited to contemporary Western culture and to a number of its basic parame- ters. In the context of the widespread rhetoric on postmodernity, Professor Famérée is of the opinion that we are still in the midst of cultural modernity. This modernity has certainly relativized and reviewed its own pronouncements, recognising, today, new figures which, nonetheless, are still part of the same fundamental model, a model which goes back to the Enlightenment and even to the Renaissance. How can this cultural paradigm be summarised?

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Since the Renaissance’s anthropocentrism, Descartes’ subjective thought and, in particular, Kant’s moral autonomy of the subject, Western culture has increasingly become a culture of the subject, of subjectivity, of the individual. An individual that wants to determine, alone, all their choices, accepting external obligations only insofar as they seem justified according to their reason.

Today, the argument of pure authority is no longer sufficient to impose rules on an individual.

It is still necessary to convince them through argument. Such is modern individualism, which is today radicalised: a keen sense of autonomy and human freedom, a definite aversion to all forms of authoritarianism. Of course, such thinking and free subjectivity has recently lost some of its splendour and assertiveness. Both reason and science are more aware of their limits. Doubts and fragilities affect convictions. Solitary freedom is heavy to bear and fulfil. Hence, paradoxically and symmetrically, the success of populism. One relies on a leader, on one soothing thought. However, globally, we are still in the era of the autonomous subject. This may even be, let us hope, our final cultural accomplishment. But this autonomy should not be confused with an inward-looking self-reliance, denying any transparency. Modern individualism also shapes the followers of various religious beliefs, particularly Christian beliefs. Christianity is no longer an automatic social bond, the Church no longer has a dominant social status. Christian life today has become private and de-institutionalised, as Danièle Hervieu-Léger would say, a French sociologist of religions, or, according to Olivier Roy, a French political scientist, it has been de-cultured, finding it difficult to become part of a lineage, a tradition. Manifesting the advent of this individual, modern democracy has developed into the free association of free and equal subjects who govern their society themselves or through mediating representatives and respect constitutional rules they imposed themselves. Power comes from the people, from a group of subjects. Given the pluralism of opinion associated with the freedom of thought, modern society does not obey an unanimously shared vision. It always has to discover its purposes and the specific rules governing its different sectors. Therefore, necessarily, it is, increasingly radically, becoming a society of deliberation, discussion, research and investigation. It can never be satisfied with the meaning attained at a given time, whether in science, economics, urbanism or ethics. Thus, modern society establishes itself by engaging in a continuous debate with itself and all its components. There are both benefits and disadvantages of the advent of the individual and the relaxation of traditional solidarities. In any case, it is to this modern culture, both in its greatness and its excesses, that the Gospel must speak today. The current Catholic Church – and other Christian Churches – is made up of believers broadly defined by this culture. One might even wonder if, on many points, a conver- gence, an intimate collusion may exist between modernity and Christianity. Could the present time be a kairos, a moment favourable for this encounter, allowing Christianity to discover new potential in it- self and highlight aspects of itself which have, until now, been left by the wayside? Could a synergy, an undoubtedly critical and smart alliance, be possible between modern values and Christianity?

Is it possible to find a theological basis for this alliance as well as for the new internal processes of the Catholic Church which may result from it?

Could the emergence of the conscious and free subject, which we owe to modernity and in which Protestant Christianity, in particular, played a part, ultimately correspond, according to the Christian discourse, to the deeply-rooted dignity of the human person, created or recreated by God in his Son? Could it be related, within a more directly ecclesial regime, to the basic dignity and equality of all the baptised? Consciousness, indeed a consciousness seeking to enlighten itself, in dialogue with others, consciousness as the ultimate criterion for personal action, reason and freedom as distinctive signs of human beings, in the image and likeness of God, constantly seem to be recognised by Christian tradition. The modern democratic values of subjects thinking for themselves and making free choices, eager to debate the convictions they defend with others in order to reach the broadest possible consensus regarding the most human conduct of society, is this not in line with the dignity of the human person, as argued by the Church? Shouldn’t these democratic virtues be honoured wit- hin ecclesial life, mutatis mutandis? In fact, the Church is a specific society, born of the word of God in Jesus Christ, which does not allow any other socio-political model to be reproduced whatsoever. Nevertheless, does the democratic value of free and responsible discussion, of confidence in argumentative reason and in the ethical resources which anyone can use to benefit the collectivity not have an ecclesial correspondent in certain fundamental elements of Christian ecclesiology? Professor Famérée first and foremost believes in the statement, which has become commonplace today, that every confirmed baptised person receives the gift of the Spirit and is thus enlightened to fulfil their mission as an adult Christian in the Church and in the world. Obviously, the spirit of truth is neither the monopoly of the pope, nor of the bishops, nor of the priests. Every Christian has their role to play in the search for truth, according to Christian faith and action. The faithful, including pastors, enjoy the same sensus fidei, allowing them to infallibly feel what this faith is and what it is not. The faithful as a whole, certainly, however, it can never be excluded that only a part of them may show this sense of faith, and therefore, it would always be reckless for a pastor not to be attentive to what may be expressed even by only a part of his people. The pastor’s own function or charisma is without doubt that to discern, from a spiritual point of view, the authenticity of a specific expression of faith, but how is it possible for him to do it seriously if he does not listen to his people, who are, all together, carriers of faith in the risen Christ. This shows the usefulness and necessity of developing in the Church a truly enlightened public opinion with respect to matters of faith. This perspective requires much greater information, free speech, negotiation, respect for minorities and participation in the drawing of laws and doctrinal declarations.

Accepting more democratic procedures that can be flexibly adapted would also allow a faithful connection to be reached with the old tradition, including the appointment of a bishop, on which subject Pope Leon the Great, in the 5th century, said: “the one who must preside over all must be elected by all.”

In the same way, what can be the impact, within the Church, of declarations or decisions made by a pope or bishops, which are not actually received and accepted by the whole of the Christian people? In relation to this, we can refer to the Humanae vitae encyclical on what is called artificial contraception and even the Ordinatio sacerdotalis letter on women not being enabled access to priesthood, both of which continue to be the subject of debate. In the long-term, decisions which are not accepted simply won’t have any impact practically, ending up even losing any foundation, as Christian people cannot see, in them, a reflection of their faith or at least, something useful for its purpose. Is this not an ecclesial analogy of democracy, of the sovereignty of the people? Culturally, anthropologically and theologically, it appears that new processes are needed for the Catholic Church, going so far as to permanently include legal mediation in the institutions, such as to guarantee that the communion is both collegial and synodal at all levels. Of course, once again, the truth of the Gospel does not lie in the pronouncements of the group or of the majority. Moreover, faith is not transmitted according to rules derived from compromise. The founding event of the passion and resurrection of Christ is not only de- pendent on the adhesion of everyone.

On the other hand, the Church cannot identify itself purely and simply as a nation, both in civil and political terms. Therefore, without reducing ecclesial life to democratic procedures, is it not possible to lay down pathways of evolution?

Both community principles and ministerial principles of presidency or apostolic primacy are essential to ecclesial life. Nevertheless, in the Catholic Church, the principle of community or collegiality remains underdeveloped. Returning to the three levels of ecclesial life mentioned above, Professor Famérée made some simple suggestions that take into account the consideration that the creativity of the Christian communities should be preserved in institutional and legal matters. At the local level, the parish pastoral council, evolving from its purely advisory nature, could become deliberative for all decisions in its remit. This was attempted by the former bishop of Antwerp (Belgium), Mgr Paul Van den Berghe. Along with the various advisory councils established following Vatican II, he set up collegial management teams for the parishes. In these, Parish priests, vicars and laity have the same power, meaning that decisions are taken by mutual agreement, without denying the individuals’ different responsibilities. The priest's own pastoral authority must be exercised in a collegial way. This approach requires debating, negotiating and justifying in order to reach a joint resolution.

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At the diocesan level, it is doubtlessly more utopian to imagine a truly shared or unanimous decision being reached within the pastoral council or the presbyteral council, considering the number and diversity of their members. On the other hand, the bishop, the successor of the apostles, responsible for pastoral discernment, should not, of course, be automatically bound by a majority to go in a particular direction. Nevertheless, to avoid authoritarianism or an episcopal refusal to take into account the opinion of a majority of their presbyteral or pastoral council, could the bishop, in this case, perhaps, be prevented from taking any important decision which would go against a qualified majority or even simply the two councils? The right
to veto could represent, from a negative perspective, a boundary, while, from a positive one, an obligation for the bishop to debate, negotiate and convince. The same would apply to the diocesan synod. Once again, the frequent deadlocks that occurred would not have taken place if the election of the bishop was to be put forward by the diocese.

Therefore, Professor Famérée argues for taking the diocesan consultation and the wishes of neighbouring bishops into serious account.

Perhaps the appointment, rather than being made by the Roman Congregation for Bishops and the Pope, could proceed from the national or regional episcopal conference, where the choice would necessarily be made on the basis of the three names emerging from the diocesan consultation.

At the inter-diocesan level, the local diocesan Churches and their groups, whether national, regional or continental, should regain real decision-making au- tonomy from Rome on all matters which do not affect the whole Church or which may jeopardise its unity (matters to be defined by the general council or the deliberative synod of bishops). The autonomy of the local churches would promote communion between them and the collegiality of their pastors. This can only encourage greater attention to the sensus fidelium among the faithful in local Churches. It could be beneficial for a freer, more adaptive proposition or inculturation of faith. The local or regional collegiality of bishops could be manifested, in particular, through episcopal conferences. They should be able to decide, by qualified majority, binding the entire conference without prior approval from Rome. As a sign of com- munion, then, of course, the decisions would be com- municated to the neighbouring Churches and Rome, in particular, for acceptance. If necessary, a process of fraternal correction could later be initiated between the Churches concerned. All this would imply a return to origins and, it must be admitted, a huge conver- sion of the current processes within the Church and, in particular, the papal system. 

According to Professor Famérée, at the universal level the resolutions adopted should be few in number and genuinely of universal scope (to be specified in a deliberative council or synod of bishops), whereas all other matters should be dealt with before the local Churches. Firstly, the theology of the papal mystery according to Vatican I should be reviewed in view of a communion of autonomous local churches and in dialogue with non-Catholic Christians. The function of universal primacy, different from that of the diocesan bishop of Rome, of archbishop with primacy over Italy and of patriarch of the West (which, by the way, has been removed), would undoubtedly be quite modest. It would promote and encourage the living communion of all patriarchal, continental and local Churches, but without being able to interfere in the internal life of these different Churches, except upon the specific request of a Church and due to a need for ecclesial unity. At the request of the local Churches, Rome would exercise an arbitral role, functioning as a court of cassation, confirming or overturning a case already judged elsewhere and in need of review. This procedure, differing greatly from the one currently in place, would be much more consistent with the primacy during the first four centuries of Christianity (with reference to the 343 Council of Sardis which clarified, in both the Western and Eastern Church, the role of the bishop of Rome). That is not all. As the universal primus, the pope would be surrounded by a permanent synod composed of diocesan or residential bishops, representative of the Church as a whole and elected, in turn, by their peers. Fifteen or more bishops, for six months, for example, who would be the bishops of real churches. This idea was indeed put forward during the Second Vatican Council by Patriarch Maximos IV of the Melkites of Lebanon and Syria. His proposal pleased a number of fathers, hence the disappointment felt when, in September 1965, Pope Paul VI took the council by surprise and proposed an alternative synod model: a permanent synod, similar to the permanent synods of the eastern patriarchs. In this case, the pope would not take any decisions as a universal prims without the agreement of this synod of bishops, representa- tive of the Catholic Church as a whole, while every- thing be done with the greatest possible harmony that need reign between a synod and its primacy, according, of course, to the Trinitarian ideal of canon of the apostles 34 in the 4th century Apostolic Constitutions. This model is ideal in the Orthodox world. However, things are not that easy...

Major decisions for the whole Church would be the prerogative of a universal council.

We could also expect that the Roman orientations would take quite a different turn compared to what they have been to date. This would be for the greater good of the universal Church, as they would be developed by carefully listening to what the Spirit says to the various local Churches, which could be communicated to the Pope through their representatives. Through these synodal processes of the universal primacy, the Roman Curia would once again become what it should never have ceased to be: a simple administration serving the primacy, not a bureaucracy nor autonomous power, but rather an organ that exists purely to execute and transmit primatial decisions that are now adopted synodically. “One can dream, even if they are a Catholic theologian”, exclaimed Professor Famérée.

In conclusion, it is not difficult to imagine how the Church could be renewed and restructured (perestroïka!) at all levels, especially the universal level. But will we ever have the courage, the audacity to do so? Has change already started? That said, a lot can be done right now to make the experience of a Church more synodal. Moreover, we also need, at all levels, to dare to exercise all our rights and, if necessary, calmly protest against any abuse of power. Without the Church becoming a pure and simple parliamentary democracy, which it is not and should not become, it would however become more democratic in its processes, specifically in the sense that the people of God could be heard, and more importantly, listened to, whilst abiding by the apostolic ministry of priests and bishops presiding over ecclesial communities, first of all as brothers (and perhaps, one day, as sisters, anything could happen!).

It could also be believed that this transformation of Catholicism could contribute to other Christian Churches abandoning prejudices, encouraging them to re-establish communion.

More fundamentally, through this transformation of Catholicism in particular, Christianity would provide itself with the means to make the message of the Gospel more credible, as the proof of brotherhood in Christ would not appear to be contradicted by the authoritarian behaviour within the Churches themselves. However, undoubtedly, this also presupposes a critical, but fundamental reconciliation of the Catholic Church with the democratic culture of our time, which is not yet complete. If the Church does not proclaim a God who rejoices in the autonomy of an intelligent, conscious and free human subject, in solidarity with other human subjects, a God who offers His alliance of love to His autonomous and solidary subjects, if the Church shows itself suspicious and negative, imperative and forbidding with respect to our culture, how can it claim to evangelise and sustain it? Thus, the Church could perhaps contribute, for its part, in revitalising our Western democracies, providing them with that extra dose of spirituality, the concern for public generality and collective unity, the dynamism, the breath of hope which they so often lack. Today, perhaps, the Church could help, along with others, fill this democratic lacuna from which our contemporary societies suffer.